By T. D. Thornton
With the clock ticking toward the Apr. 4 deadline for trainer Bob Baffert's looming 90-day suspension, a Kentucky Court of Appeals judge now wants to figure out whether the original venue chosen for legal action last month by the owner and trainer of disqualified 2021 GI Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit constitutes the correct county-level court. Dick Downey of the Blood-Horse first reported on the judge's order requesting briefs from the movants (Baffert and Zedan) and the respondent (the KHRC) covering just that single issue to be filed with the court by Tuesday.
Because of overlapping uses of the term “appeal,” it has grown difficult to keep track of the status of what has now escalated to Baffert and owner Amr Zedan's intertwined administrative and legal cases against the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission (KHRC).
At the commission level, Baffert and Zedan have already appealed the KHRC's penalties (the suspension and a $7,500 fine for Baffert, plus the forfeiture of Zedan's purse winnings from the Derby) that were handed down Feb. 21 in the wake of now-deceased Medina Spirit's betamethasone positive in last year's Derby.
But when a routine request to stay those penalties (pending the outcome of the commission-level appeal) was denied by the KHRC Feb. 25, Baffert and Zedan took the matter to Franklin Circuit Court Feb. 28.
A Franklin Circuit Court judge Mar. 21 rejected Baffert and Zedan's plea for a stay or temporary injunction to keep the penalties from going into effect, so the trainer and owner bumped up their request to the next legal level, the Court of Appeals, Mar. 24.
On Mar. 25, the Court of Appeals judge raised the out-of-the-blue issue of whether the underlying Franklin Court appeal originated in the correct venue in the first place.
As Downey reported, the question drills down to: Should the case have originally been heard in Jefferson County (specifically Louisville, where the Derby itself is run), Fayette County (Lexington, where the KHRC's offices are headquartered), or Franklin County (Frankfort, where the Kentucky Public Protection Cabinet, the KHRC's parent organization, is housed)?
Even if Baffert prevails in this Court of Appeals attempt, he is still barred from having horses qualify for and run in the Derby based on a separate, private-party prohibition issued by the gaming corporation that owns Churchill Downs.
But Baffert is also fighting that banishment in federal court even while contingently transferring his Derby contenders to other trainers so they can try and earn qualifying points and enter the Derby.